Pursue your happiness: State wants to bet big on outdoor recreation

Times Observer file photos by Josh Cotton A total of $90 million awarded in state-wide grant funding will bring $150,000 to Warren County, here on the Brokenstraw Creek, for stream improvements in several municipalities.

Pennsylvania’s economic future, state officials think, means growing the outdoor recreation economy.

Such was the discussion during the Department of Conservation and Natural Resource’s advisory council meeting on Wednesday. The newly launched Office of Outdoor Recreation touted the industry’s impact, calling it responsible for $17 billion annually and 164,000 jobs.

“We need to elevate the visibility of outdoor jobs,” OOR Director Nathan Reigner said. “We need to diversify the types of folks who close their eyes and say, ‘I want to develop a career in the outdoors.'”

The office plans to support those efforts by hiring a deputy director and an outreach and engagement manager by the summer.

The plan also involves the public and local leaders invested in outdoor recreation.

A snowmobile is pictured on a trail in Warren County.

“Communicating the value of the outdoors is going to be very important,” Reigner said. “We need packaged success stories; we need testimonials from businesses; we need advanced economic impact studies.”

The office’s strategy means working more with county development groups to advertise the opportunities that already exist, he said, and make Pennsylvania a national leader.

“We gotta go to the gym on the bottom-up approach — we gotta bulk up our local and regional capacity to take advantage of this funding that’s coming down,” Reigner said. “There are fewer more key allies than so-called local development districts.”

Steve McKnight, president and CEO of the Altoona Blair County Development Corporation, argued that attitudes are changing, but there’s a public awareness gap.

“We don’t know that we have a very large concentration of outdoor ski areas … we have trails, we have boats, we have all of these things, yet we’re not thought of as that outdoor recreation space,” McKnight said.

Though the public might not realize it, businesses do.

“We all know there’s more jobs than people right now in a lot of locations,” McKnight said. “In recent hires, a few of our local industries said we’ve won five people who have come to work for our company, and they all cited outdoor recreation and the environment that we’re in as the reason they want to live in our community … the businesses are getting it.”

McKnight expects the future to be one where businesses chase people rather than the other way — a mobile workforce where people choose work based on where they want to live.

But for Pennsylvania to get there, the infrastructure needs to be in place, from restaurants and outdoor amenities to housing.

“Areas that have been doing outdoor recreation as an economic engine for many years: You can go to those places, you can see trail heads, it’s very easy to access those assets,” McKnight said. “Here, if you come to Blair County, you’ll see the mountains and you’ll figure out ‘How do I get there? What do I do?’ We’re not speaking the language yet.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today